Let us first look at the Holy Family for inspirations. While the Holy Family may seem like an unreachable ideal for some, the circumstances faced by the Holy Family in life are more than relatable. Life got real very quickly for the Holy Family: Joseph had to leave his home country with his young family in order to avoid persecution; their only child was lost for three days during a family trip, and talked back at them upon being found. While many things can be distilled from these events, let us focus on one: Listening. Joseph listened to the voice of God through the angel and fled to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-14); Mary listened to Jesus after three distressing days of seeking but not finding (Luke 2:51b). After the finding, Jesus returned to Nazareth with his parents and listened to them by being obedient (Luke 2:51a).
Listening needs to be understood in two ways: Listening to God through our prayers, and listening to the voice of God in others. Listening is truly an art, as we can have ears but not hear the voice of God (Mark 8:18). Even when we hear, we may not listen. In this day and age, we are easily distracted by many things, notably technology. You may have already been distracted by updates from your smartphone as you read this very reflection. In order to live a life of prayer and love within the context of the family through listening to the voice of God, we need to be very intentional about our use of technology, lest it become a hindrance rather than a help.
As we have learned from the example of the Holy Family, families are to become schools of true human growth not simply for the sake of the children. Mary listened to the words of Jesus even when he was twelve years old because she recognized something profound in his words. Young or old, we Christians are called to turn our hearts to God. As children learn from their parents, parents also learn from their children. The heartfelt and directed nature of a child’s prayer teaches us adults to be less guarded and abstract in our own prayers.
The pivotal role of the family is especially highlighted in Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation in 2016, Amoris Laetitia. Pope Francis cautions against the mentality that the formation of children can somehow be outsourced to places such as the church parish or the school. The lived, credible example of Christian love – especially that of family members – exerts the most influence on children. As such, families are truly the schools where the formation of the human person takes place.
How have I been challenged to make my family more of a school of true human growth? This question is just as pertinent to those of us who do not have a family of our own, especially when parental figures are not guaranteed in the fragile state of the modern family. We need not be parents or grandparents to be a credible example of Christian love to children; this is already possible when we find ourselves as aunts and uncles, or close family friends. With this in mind, how can I contribute to this effort of helping a family to become a school of true human growth with my extended family, or the families of my friends?